Blake Goble: It's high time to import Bollywood

BY BLAKE GOBLE
Daily Film Columnist
Published March 7, 2009

Congratulations are in order for “Slumdog Millionaire.”

After strong reviews, miraculous word-of-mouth buzz, a snappy soundtrack and eight Academy Awards, it’s refreshing to see a film receive such unanimous acclaim. A fairy tale in every sense, the film’s transcendent power was perfectly summed up in a recent Time Magazine cartoon by Drew Dernavich that depicts an analyst explaining to a client that the end to all their worries is seeing “Slumdog.”

And for the nay-sayers who have been complaining about this film for the last month (“Slumdog-mania,” “poverty porn!”), take it easy for a second. Know this: Danny Boyle said that this film was supposed to be a cultural drama, not a documentary. And according to Entertainment Weekly, this film was a hair’s breadth away from being a throwaway DVD until Fox decided to foot the bill.

But for all the film's achievements, it left me wanting more. “Slumdog” made me want to go Bollywood. I want to see how Anil Kapoor (the “Millionaire” host) has over 100 movies on his résumé. I want to see Boyle’s visual influences. And I don’t think I’m alone.

“Slumdog” has given audiences a taste of a cultural genre that feels too ignored and under-explored by American audiences. American distribution of Bollywood films accumulates something like an extra $100 million a year for the industry, but that pales in comparison to a worldwide billion grossed by the “Pirates of the Caribbean” trilogy alone. Show us these movies. Now!

For the completely unaware, here are the basics on Bollywood: Bollywood is the Mumbai-based industry for Hindi language films in India. It’s a $1.5-billion dollar industry that produces about 200 movies per year. Generally, the films have musical elements and a taste for romance and comedy. Bollywood seems to make films in every genre, which is the same as Hollywood. So why can’t we see these Bollywood films?

In honor of Boyle’s crossover masterwork, I’ve decided to go looking for Bollywood. But I need some help. I guess this is a column about me admitting I’m ignorant about this stuff. That’s why I have two pleas.

My first goes out to the big guys. Paramount, Columbia, Universal and all the rest, I hope someone passes this along. I know I’m not the only one yearning for this, but please, please distribute some Bollywood movies in the U.S. And I’m not talking special film prints for theme nights or rinky-dink joints in L.A. I want Bollywood to come to Midwestern multiplexes and drive-in theaters. Don’t just cop out and try to rehash "Slumdog," which isn’t actually a true Bollywood film, and don’t put Hugh Jackman and Julia Roberts in an Indian-themed romance this fall. Just bring unadulterated Bollywood to the U.S.

It can’t be that expensive to pick up the rights to some of these movies. Not sure what to buy? Simply look at an amazon.com list. Ever heard of “Veer Zara” or "Lagaan — Once Upon a Time in India"? Me neither. But I want to see them. These films are generally positive and upbeat, vibes that have been rewarded at box offices everywhere recently. Look how happy "Paul Blart: Mall Cop" and the "Madea" films were and how much they earned.

Please bring Bollywood to the Showcase Cinemas. If you market it, we will come.

As for my other demand, I have a favor to ask to anyone that reads this column. It seems that there’s only one course I could find in the LSA guide on Indian film. And I’m not currently enrolled in it. It's a bummer, too, seeing as I really want to watch these movies and I have no idea where to start.

With that, I'd like to ask if I can borrow Bollywood movies from someone. Well, let me rephrase that — does anyone have any movie suggestions? A good friend recommended that I should watch films like “Mr. and Mrs. Iyer,” “Phoonk” and “Mitr, My Friend.” Awesome start, but there’s so much more to see. Are these films any good? I don't know. But I intend to find out. I’ve already had my horror, 70’s, musical, gansgster, noir and screwball comedy phases. Now is the time to go Bollywood.